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Inclusive high quality teaching

Guest Blogger - John Dabell

Written by Guest Blogger - John Dabell

John trained as a teacher 20 years ago, starting his career in London and then teaching in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs he trained as an Ofsted inspector and worked as a national in-service provider. John now works as a project manager, writer and as an Editor of @TeacherToolkit, UK Blog Awards Winner 2018.

High-quality teaching for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is an absolute non-negotiable and basic entitlement.


High quality teaching is the foundation for progress for all children. It is believed that the difference between poor teaching and highly effective teaching is just under half a year’s extra progress for most students (Machin, Murphy and Hanushek, 2011).

However, research by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) has revealed that school staff are not sufficiently trained to meet the needs of pupils with learning difficulties, with special needs education heavily reliant on under-skilled teaching assistants.

Rob Webster, who co-authored the SENSE study with Professor Peter Blatchford said,

“We also found that teachers and TAs are often not adequately trained in teaching pupils with SEND. Many staff were unsure how to best deal with the challenges and sometimes-complex difficulties posed by pupils with EHCPs”.

Previous research from the IOE team found that statemented pupils were often set apart from their peers and this reduced valuable opportunities to interact with their teacher and peers. Webster and Blatchford (2014) found that TAs shouldered considerable responsibility for the planning and teaching of SEND pupils and were often seen by their teaching colleagues as being ‘experts’.

In reality what the study found was that TAs delivered a far less effective pedagogical diet and “tasks (including interventions) were often inappropriately targeted, repetitive or undemanding.”

Although the education of all children is a team effort, pupils with SEND are not the exclusive responsibility of TAs and so teachers should always take the lead. Paragraph 6.36 of the SEND Code of Practice says that “teachers are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of the pupils in their class, including where pupils access support from teaching assistants or specialist staff.”

The Code also makes clear that schools must do everything they can to meet the needs of any pupil with SEN and ensure that they engage with activities alongside pupils who do not have SEN.


Quality First

Clearly there are considerable gaps in teachers’ and TAs’ knowledge when it comes to meeting the needs of pupils with SEND and many staff are unsure how to best support them, but the bottom line is that good teaching and learning is key and has to be prioritised.

The SEND Code of Practice is very clear,

“High quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils, is the first step in responding to pupils who have or may have SEN. Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for a lack of good quality teaching.”

The chief means by which support should be given has to come through purposeful pedagogy and high-quality experiences.


But what does high quality look like?

According to SEN specialist Natalie Packer (2017) in her book The Teacher’s Guide to SEN, inclusive high-quality teaching guarantees that planning and implementation meets the needs of all pupils, and builds high expectations for all pupils. She says that it is “about the way you use assessment and feedback to identify gaps and help pupils to move on in their learning. It is about providing both support and challenge in order to enable pupils to achieve more.”

Packer identifies nine key elements that work together to make a good quality, inclusive lesson. She suggests thinking about these as pieces in a jigsaw which combine to strengthen teaching if just one of these pieces is missing then high-quality provision is likely to be incomplete.

The 9 pieces of high-quality teaching are:

SEN High Quality Teaching

Packer says that on a practical level, high-quality teaching means teachers using a wide range of strategies meticulously dovetailed to the learning objectives of the lesson. She says that when inclusive high-quality teaching has happened then the learning outcomes speak for themselves and pupils will:

  • be engaged and motivated to learn.
  • know where they are in their learning, where they need to go next and how to get there.
  • become independent and resilient (and rise to the challenge).
  • develop skills, knowledge and understanding across a range of areas.
  • recognise they have made progress with their learning from their own starting point.

This nine-piece jigsaw is fundamental to supporting not just pupils with SEND but all pupils and it is this ‘picture’ that needs to be carefully planned and shared with TAs.

Packer argues that the first four pieces are the most important as these act as the corner pieces of the jigsaw or the foundations to build success on so that the centre piece – independence can be achieved.



Being a reflective practitioner, it is useful to take time to think about how you effectively implement each of these jigsaw pieces. All the pieces are important but the bottom-line is getting to know each child and having a clear understanding of their needs.

To think about how you approach inclusive high quality teaching then it is essential you audit your provision and do this as a whole school. Self-audit tools are excellent ways to stimulate thinking and help shape a whole-school approach to inclusive maths provision. For example, consider the following questions as a staff and consider how effectively your approaches are:

  • Do we coordinate provision and use a clear system of referral?
  • Do we use effective evidenced based interventions?
  • Do we share our expertise and pool resources with other local schools?
  • Do we use resources efficiently?
  • Do we use rigorous assessment to precisely identify SEN and match interventions to individual needs?
  • How do we track and monitor pupils’ progress across different subjects?
  • How do we evaluate the impact of interventions and adjust our provision?
  • Do we work effectively with pupils and their families?
  • Do we provide a relevant and flexible curriculum and invest in SEN CPD?
  • Are the needs of all children recognised and listened to – do we have high expectations and ambition for everyone?

Remember that the jigsaw elements are not the only pieces that characterise high-quality teaching and there will be others we can identify that fit inside the picture such as the four-part cycle of ‘assess, plan, do, review’ known as the graduated approach (see Nasen’s quick guide to learn more about this here as well as their collaborative learning document too).

You may also want to take a look at the DCSF Personalised learning – a practical guide which details ‘quality first teaching’ and its key characteristics as:

  • highly focused lesson design with sharp objectives
  • high demands of pupil involvement and engagement with their learning
  • high levels of interaction for all pupils
  • appropriate use of teacher questioning, modelling and explaining
  • an emphasis on learning through dialogue, with regular opportunities for pupils to talk both individually and in groups
  • an expectation that pupils will accept responsibility for their own learning and work independently
  • regular use of encouragement and authentic praise to engage and motivate pupils.

It’s also worth revisiting what Ofsted said in their 2010 report ‘The Special Educational Needs and Disability Review; A Statement is Not Enough’,

“Across all the education providers visited, the keys to good outcomes were good teaching and learning, close tracking, rigorous monitoring of progress with intervention quickly put in place, and a thorough evaluation of the impact of additional provision. High aspirations and a focus on enabling children and young people to be as independent as possible led most reliably to the best achievement.”

Too many children with SEND are not making the progress they should be and although there is no quick-fix and no magic wand, we do have powerful strategies at our disposal to make a difference.

Read about how InfoMentor is helping SEN schools across the UK.